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Home » Gift Giving

My Personal Quest to De-Commercialize the Holidays

Last updated by on December 31, 2013

Do you wish that the Holidays weren’t so darn commercialized? Are you starting to think that it may be time to cut scale back or cut off gift giving, but don’t quite know how to make the transition?

Here is my story on how I came to the realization that gifting was wearing out its welcome and how I’ve tried (at times unsuccessfully) to spread the anti-commercialization message to my family and friends.

Update: my experiment in decommercializing the holidays actually worked!

Video Games, and Toys, and Candy, Oh My!

Growing up, like just about any other kid, I absolutely loved getting presents. I had a list of video games, VHS tapes, CD’s, toys, and anything else a kid would want. I’d go down to the Christmas tree as soon as the presents came out and made a little tear in the corner of the wrapping paper just so I could peek in at what I had to look forward to the next morning.

Christmas morning was the highlight of the year. This excitement, albeit a little more subdued, continued on throughout my teen years.

The Twenties

anti-commercial holidaysThen college came along, and my personal belongings grew with each passing year. Not too long after, I moved in with my wife, and suddenly we had double of everything. Our wedding day added to it. And as the years went by, we started to collect more stuff. Each time we moved we needed a bigger truck to haul our possessions around. We went from a U-Haul to a semi-truck from our first move to our next.

Is this story starting to sound familiar?

With each passing holiday we started to get more and more stuff that we didn’t need. Then, we started to get more and more stuff that we would never use. And then came all of the guilt and associated fear if the gift giver happened to stop by and ask “so how’s the rice cooker?” or “that steamvac is great, isn’t it?”.


Then I Caught the Anti-Commercialization Virus

Receiving gifts around the holidays only added to the stuff that I didn’t need. I started to wonder if others were feeling the same way…

I spoke with my wife and was slightly surprised that she felt the same way as me about gifts. We wanted to de-clutter our lives. We wanted Christmas to be more about the tradition of getting together with loved ones than worrying about giving and receiving gifts. We wanted Christmas to be Thanksgiving: Part 2 (food, family, and relaxation). And we wanted our birthdays to be the same way.

So we stopped buying each other gifts. It was that simple.

And Wanted to Spread our Anti-Gifting Ways

Passionate about our new anti-gifting ways we started to spread the word. Gift giving had been firmly ingrained as an essential part of the holiday experience in my family and with my in-laws. We decided we were going to try to set a new trend. But we knew that it was going to be a tough sell.

We started calling family members to tell them that we no longer wanted gifts. “What?! That’s Crazy! You’re no fun!”. Just the suggestion of breaking the tradition of commercialization was resulting in a hell of a lot of push-back. So we gave in a bit.

The Experience Gift Era

As a transition from material gifts, we started giving ‘experience’ gifts. If you haven’t heard of experience gifts, they are basically giving someone the gift of an experience vs. a material gift. An example might be tickets to a play or concert. We weren’t very strict about what classified as an experience or not, and have worked in bottles of wine, baked goods, and other things that you ‘experience’ in addition to entertainment experiences.

But we kept getting material gifts in return. And despite our request to have the other part stop giving us gifts, we’ve felt like we had to pretend to like them so as to not hurt feelings.

Taking the Hard Line Approach

So this year we’ve started to draw the line in the sand. We have begun calling our family members and telling them ‘no gifts this year’. Thus far, we’re 2-for-3. My wife’s brother and sister agreed – her parents said they ‘still wanted to get us a little something’. Arrggghhhh! Two out of three ain’t bad (thanks Meatloaf).

My Philosophy on Gift Giving & Receiving

I understand the value of giving something special to someone. But the holidays had become simply giving others a laundry list of stuff I wanted. It’s a terribly inefficient process. You get stuff that someone else thinks you might want. No matter how accurate they are, they could never be as efficient as you are in buying only the stuff that you need. So the holidays become this inefficient commercial exchange that leaves everyone with a bunch of guilt-ridden stuff that has no sentimental value and never gets used.

In our transition to experience gifts we found that others didn’t want to put in the time or effort to do the same in return and it resulted in them simply buying us more stuff that we didn’t need. Moving forward, we thought that the only way to prevent this was to simply go the ‘no gifts’ route. I don’t know that there’s a happy medium ground. It’s still a work in progress.

Holidays Commercialization Discussion:

  • What different approach, if any have you taken to holiday gift giving?
  • How do you convince someone to break tradition and not buy you anything?
  • Do you sell or re-gift without shame?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • David says:

    In my experience there is no middle ground. Either you give gifts or you don’t. The thing that I don’t understand is that why do we need to feel like we should give gifts on these occasions. It takes the element of surprise away completely. It makes the holidays pressure filled and just plain stressful.

  • julie says:

    My mom and I do tend to go for “experience gifts” now for each other and my grandmother (her mother). We all have too much stuff, and don’t really “need” anything, but we like going out and seeing Broadway shows, so we usually just get tickets to something. I went last Christmas without exchanging gifts with my boyfriend, but this year he purchased an expensive purse that I wanted (yes, I know that he bought it for me so it’s not a surprise), so now I feel obliged to get him something.

    The thing I truly hate is all the commercials on TV and the emails about discounts I keep getting. I really wish this holiday WAS just thanksgiving part 2. No one I’m buying presents for needs the stuff, but somehow it proves that I care and thought about them. Once my boyfriend and I live together, I think we will also be weening our family members off gift giving.

  • Evan Mullins says:

    I suggest the experience gifts, edible gifts and even the homemade gifts. I prefer creative gifts to no gifts since I think an important part of the Christmas spirit is giving. You don’t necessarily have to go buy something to give a gift. You can make them something or do something for them. Examples include making food or crafts. Photo prints or books are great. Another gift I’ve seen is a simple letter written to the person. Not a gimmicky hallmark card with a one liner and signature, but a real hand written letter to tell someone of your love/thoughts of them and perhaps detailing your gratitude or the relationship you share with them and even Christmas itself. Giving service is another option, volunteer as a family at a soup kitchen or donate somewhere to make a positive difference.

    Maybe the answer isn’t boycotting giving gifts, but boycotting the commercialization of the gift giving tradition.
    My 2¢ anyways…

  • Craig says:

    I only ask for specific things I want or need, mainly gift cards which make it easy for me to get stuff. For example I am a big reader and will buy books anyways, so I asked for a gift card for a book store. If I get something I ask for, I know it will be worth it.

  • Honey says:

    Gift-giving is one of the five love styles and not in and of itself a bad thing unless you can’t afford to do it. As long as you make a list of things you want (to help the giver pick something out for you) and stay within what you can afford, there is absolutely nothing wrong or strange about it.

    I am constantly amazed at how many people vilify consumerism on frugality websites – I thought that the point of frugality was cutting back on things you don’t enjoy so that you can afford the things you do. If you especially enjoy giving presents, or know that someone you care greatly for enjoys receiving them, or greatly enjoy receiving them yourself, it does not make you a bad person.

    I think that lots of people make those who have this love style feel very uncomfortable reading and posting comments on these types of sites, and I think that’s a shame.

  • G.E. Miller says:

    @ Honey – there is nothing wrong with giving a gift. But if you’re going to give a gift, shouldn’t it mean something? How many times has someone given you a gift and then completely forgotten that they gave it to you in the first place?

    Frugality is not the opposite of consumerism, however, the two haven’t slept in the same bed together, in well, forever.

  • I saw an article in my local newspaper in the business section that actually said that people weren’t spending enough. Since the savings rate has gone up it’s only making things worse for the economy. the were stressing that we needed consumer spending. I couldn’t believe I was reading it.

  • Honey says:

    @ G.E., I think that for some people the act of giving makes them so happy that my accepting it is the real gift because it makes them so happy. If I think that it was the giving that made them happy and they won’t remember the gift, then the worst case scenario is that I give it to charity – which means that both when I accepted it in the first place and when I gave it to someone who needed it more than I did, the gift created more happiness for more people than if it had been given and I’d loved it in the first place.

  • Kevin says:

    The spirit of giving is what the holidays should be about. Which means giving because you want to; not with the expectation to receive and not because you feel guilty because someone got you something last year. The holidays have become a spirit of receiving. That’s fine for children, but we’re grown now. We have to get passed this “gimme, gimme” mentality.

    I don’t like to receive gifts because I just don’t want more stuff. Stuff starts to accumulate, and then I have to deal with it; and who wants that?

  • Aubrey Olson says:

    Your approaching this the wrong way.

    Don’t tell them “I want absolutely no gifts.”

    Tell them “I want no material gifts.” or “I want tickets to shows/concerts.” or “I want a plane ticket.” or “I want a weekend with ya’ll.” or “I want a donation to a charity in my name.” or “I want you to throw a garage sale with me.”

    Think man, think.

  • Samantha says:

    My husband and I instituted the experience gift idea this year. It works great between the two of us, but it is harder to get others on board. We asked relatives not to buy us objects and explained we’d be doing the same for them. It mostly worked. It’s actually harder with friends who insist on buying us material gifts. So, you get an awkward moment where they give you something and you have no object to give in return and you hope they won’t do it again.

    I also believe in making gifts. This year I created handmade holiday cards with a nice personal message to each recipient. I also made an elaborate photo album for a relative’s milestone birthday, which took many hours and actually a lot of money, but then I was told we needed to purchase a material gift as well because what I made didn’t cost enough. That was disheartening and I put my foot down.

  • Jemby says:

    My Wife and I decided to stop doing gifts on Christmas and use that money that we would give to give to Charities. When we do give gifts it is usually giving money in the the receiver’s to a charity that the person is interested in. For kid’s birthdays we usually give what we would spend on gifts and give them that money for college savings… They will get enough toys from everyone else at the party.

  • Dub says:

    Those are great ideas Jemby. I try to do experience gifts as well. This year was the first that I had to buy presents for my boyfriend’s family (or rather, felt obligated to). I stuck to small gifts and baked cookies as a family gift…this worked out fine, although just the thought of more people added to my gift list really stressed me out. I hate that the holidays have become such a stressful time when money is literally the last thing we should be worrying about. We should be relaxing with our families and enjoying what we have, rather than worrying about what we need to get. Gifts are great, but the pressure of consumerism has really taken away from the meaning of the holidays.

  • Nick says:

    My mom spent 2000 dolers on my little brother last year do you thing that is a little over kill and i told my mom that i dont need any thing because i got a banjo for my b day and x mis and she still got me stuff but i did not need it or want it so i told her for next year you dont need to geat me any thing

  • nikc says:

    whell my family is not right but we do prity well because my fauther if frugal and dos not spend much money but my mom blow it like water

  • Natalie says:

    Both my husband and I come from poor families and we have had to forgo gift giving many years out of necessity on both parties. However, we usually manage to do “something,” even if it is just baking some cookies. I crochet and I have given homemade gifts many years. Sometimes I ask for gift cards specifically because I love shopping and I’m very picky. I’m a little surprised that gift giving is an issue for so many people. You guys must be well off. I do enjoy the holiday season, with gifts or without. I’ve had to be creative out of necessity. Although I do like the idea of a no “stuff” policy, coupons for services, homemade baked goods, and favors still make good gifts. For example, I’m helping to install new flooring for my mother-in-law’s gift this holiday. It will save her hundreds if not thousands, but not a dime is changing hands.

  • Carrie says:

    Nobody has mentioned re-gifting yet, so I’ll add my thoughts. I admit I am a notorious gift returner and re-gifter, though never on gifts from the people closest to me. I’m talking about “obligation gifts” from extended family and coworkers, the kind of pre-packaged gift that you just snag because you have to bring something to a secret santa. The reason I do this is because I don’t need the extra clutter, sweets, or gift cards to random places. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the gifts, but as a de-clutterer, their value to me is higher if I can use them in place of an obligation gift I would otherwise have to buy!

    My absolute favorite kinds of gifts are the donations you can make to organizations like Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision, which have catalogs full of practical things for people struggling in developing nations. My parents, sisters and I have purchased farm animals, medical supplies, and clothing, and nothing makes me happier Christmas morning than to know the gift someone gave to me is helping someone in need.


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